Reflection Manual for
Immersion Experiences

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See also:

R.S.O. Reflection Manual for Immersion Experiences

Table of Contents

Defining Reflection
Importance of Reflection
Seven Principles for Successful Reflection Conversations
Opening Activities
Closing Activities
Student & Advisor Voices on the Importance of Reflections
Reflection Conversations and Activities for…

Defining Reflection

Reflections enable a group of students the chance to connect their experience to their own personal lives, views, and communities back home. Reflective practices allow us to think about the world around us and then make meaning from those experiences (Exploring Leadership, 109).

More so, reflection is the process of pausing, stepping back from the action, and asking:

Importance of Reflection

Reflections help us discover meaning. As Juniata’s Registered Student Organizations embark on a variety of educational, cultural, environmental, and service-learning immersion experiences, it is imperative the trips incorporate reflections into their daily itinerary. Reflections guide us to becoming a learning community and lead us to a better understanding of other people, environments, and cultures. This, in turn, leads us to more informed actions.

Holding daily reflections during immersion experiences allows for students to:

  1. Think critically about their experience.
  2. Understand the complexity of the experience.
  3. Put their experiences into a larger context.
  4. Challenge attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, prejudices, privileges, and stereotypes.
  5. Transform a single action into a lifetime commitment.
  6. Explore individual roles within a community.
  7. Ask “Why?”


Reflection Logistics

Where to Reflect?

Location and atmosphere is an important element of reflections. Since the facilitator will ask participants to share their thoughts, a safe, open, structured and civil environment is crucial. Pick a location that allows participants to sit in a circle facing each other and where everyone can be seen.

When to Reflect?

Before the project. Prior to departure, get participants together to discuss the immersion experience and outline shared goals and expectations. This will encourage students to engage in conversations surrounding social issues or activities related to the schedule and learn about the locations politics, history, beliefs, culture, and community.

Lisa Bear from Catholic Campus Ministry tells students, “I think reflection beforehand is as important as the reflection during and after a trip.  Individuals need to have some expectations before going and it is really important to share those with the group.”

During the project. The group leader or facilitator should hold informal reflections or “check in” with participants to see how things are going throughout the day. A great time to reflect during a project would be over lunchtime or walking/traveling from one site to the next.

After the Project. The most effective reflection, or debriefing, should occur immediately following the experience. Why? Because ideas and immediate physical and emotional reactions have not yet been forgotten. The group should plan for a one hour formal reflection at the end of each day. Equally important, reflection should not end after the service experience is complete. Instead, reflection should continue to help students evaluate the meaning of the experience, grasp their emotional responses to the experience, think about the integration of knowledge and new information, and begin to explore further applications/extensions.


Seven Principles for Successful Reflection Conversations


Opening Activities

Before diving into reflections, The Office of Student Activities recommends using the following exercises to build relationships; set goals and expectations; and, establish the importance of safety and respect.

Create a Pre-Trip Group Expectations Worksheet
Conduct a Name Game

Playing a name game helps everyone learn names, get better acquainted, and begin to feel comfortable with the group. Name games create opportunities for group members to interact with people they would not naturally seek out. They help dissolve inhibitions and create a sense of emotional safety and fun.

Two Name Games that Work:

Names in Motion

Time: 10 – 30 minutes
The Game: Ask the group to introduce themselves using a fun motion as they say their name out loud. The group responds to each person by repeating the name with the same action to affirm the person and learn the name for themselves.

Musical Names

Time: 5 – 30 minutes
The Game: Ask the group to introduce themselves to the group by singing their name, using any spontaneous melody that comes to mind. Have the group sing back the name to the same tune to affirm the person and solidify the name for themselves.

Find Common Ground

Conduct opening activities that work as team building exercises, and help students discover their similarities.


Encourage creativity and thoughtfulness. Put all questions in a hat or in the center of the group. Have students take turns drawing a question and answering it.

Use Sentence Stems

Write sentence stems on paper and have participants write and/or share their thoughts with the group.

Target the 5 Senses

When asking students to reflect, it may help them to focus on the raw sensory experiences. Consider the following quote by Lao Tzu and think about how you can apply its message to your immersion experience.

“Endless drama in a group clouds consciousness. Too much noise overwhelms the senses. Continual input obscures genuine insight. Allow regular time for silent reflection. Turn inward and digest what has happened. Let the senses rest and grow still. Teach people to let go of their superficial mental chatter. Teach people to pay attention to the whole body’s reaction to a situation. When (participants) have time to reflect, they can see more clearly what is essential in themselves and others.”

~ Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism

Begin your reflection with these questions:

Closing Activities

Bringing an immersion experience to an end can result in a whirl-wind of different emotional and physical responses. Therefore, closure is essential and is needed for three reasons:

  1. It helps students reflect on and connect their overall experience.
  2. It allows students the opportunity to identify what knowledge, opinions, or feelings have remained the same or changed.
  3. It helps students think of ways to make this immersion experience have a long-lasting impact on their own lives and home-communities.

Consider the following in planning how your group will bring closure to their immersion experience.

What? So What? Now What?
Talk About Highs and Lows

Have students sit in a circle and state a “high” and “low” of their immersion experience.

Show and Tell

When students return from an immersion experience, give them a few days off and then reconvene. Ask each student to bring ten photographs to share with the group.

Connect and React Through Webbing

Stand in a circle. Give someone a ball of string and ask them to compliment another member of the group, or ask them to reflect on a particular question. Once they have done this ask them to wrap one end of the string around their wrist and throw the ball to someone else. Continue the process until everyone has had a chance to speak.

Once everyone has spoken, you should have something that looks like a web. At this point, the leader should:

Plan for the Future

Ask each participant to think about how they will continue this experience once they are home. There are a wide variety of options:

Make a list of possible things that you can all do. Ask each participant to pick two things, and make a commitment to follow through.